Flaming Star

Sally Oldfield

New World Music, 2001

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/23/2001

Let's get one thing absolutely out in the open at the start: Sally Oldfield is not the same kind of musician as her brother Mike. If you're expecting to hear a female version of Tubular Bells, stop reading here, 'cause you're gonna be disappointed.

Flaming Star, the latest disc from Oldfield, is kind of disappointing in itself. After a strong start, Oldfield dissolves into a weaker version of Peter Gabriel, albeit with a more spiritual (not meaning religious) bend to the music. It's tribal and earthy at times, spacey at others - and it sometimes feels like Oldfield herself doesn't quite know what to do with the grooves being laid down.

Oh, things start off in an amazing way with the title track. The chants leading into Oldfield's vocal line help drive the song forward, and Oldfield herself has a sound that makes me think this is what Madonna might have tried had she kept following the vein of songs like "Frozen". But don't think for a moment that Oldfield is a pop artist; she is more interested in exploring the music and its deeper, more spiritual side.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

In a way, this might be the flaw with Flaming Star. Not that following a spiritual path with the music is bad at all - indeed, many discs I've listened to of late have had a spiritual nature, and the music has been breathtaking. But Oldfield seems to be merely content as a voyager on this journey, and not the captain of the ship. (I'd dare to call multi-instrumentalist Martin Savale, otherwise referred to as "Babu Storn," in control, even though Oldfield herself wrote the much of the music.)

This willingness to let the music carry you to its own destination can be a dangerous thing in the wrong hands; I think of the jams the Grateful Dead got into in their concerts, and realize there were some where the band just didn't have a clue where to take the music. This is the case with Oldfield; tracks like "Samurai Of The Sun" all but scream for further development, and fail to achieve what they could well have been. Others, like "Ascension," come a little closer to the mark, but without a strong guiding hand, the listener is left adrift in the musical cosmos. This, I don't believe, was Oldfield's intention.

The lyrics to much of Flaming Star are supposed to lead the listener, as the disc's liner notes say, to a "higher understanding". Of what, I don't know, since most of the lyrical work tends to become blended with the music. Even the remix of "Mirrors," a song which was a hit for Oldfield, falls flat.

Using music to uncover a new awareness of life and the world around you is an ideal which many musicians have struggled to accomplish for many years. I don't doubt that Oldfield is sincere in her quest, and that she has the talent to achieve that goal. But even with the occasional strong performance, Flaming Star suggests that even she could benefit from a musical road map.

Rating: C-

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© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of New World Music, and is used for informational purposes only.